If your ancestor died in unexplained circumstances, there may have been a coroner’s inquest. These were usually held at the local public house, workhouse or the actual building where the death occurred.
Until 1752 coroners handed their records to assize judges. These were later transferred to The National Archives. After 1860 inquest records were filed through the quarter sessions and you’ll find those that survive will usually be in the local archives.
If you wish to learn more about the origins and development of the coroner system see
For a good introduction to the subject have a look at https://www.londonlives.org/static/IC.jsp . Here you’ll find images and transcriptions of over 5,000 inquests from the City of London, and Middlesex and Westminster.
Newspaper reports of an inquest are often the only surviving record. https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/ . You can search by name or keyword, as well as for newspapers by title, area and date range.
The National Archives has a good guide to Coroners’ Inquests which can be found at https://nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/coroners-inquests/
In Scotland fatal accidents were processed through the sheriff courts and most are listed in the online catalogue https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/research/guides/fatal-accident-inquiry-records . There’s also a National Records of Scotland guide to Sheriff Court records https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/research/guides/sheriff-court-records .
For examples of Coroners’ Inquests:
Salisbury – https://salisburyinquests.wordpress.com/ . Transcribed press reports from 1868 to 1920, covering Salisbury and South Wiltshire.
Hertfordshire – https://www.hertfordshire.gov.uk/services/libraries-and-archives/hertfordshire-archives-and-local-studies/whats-in-the-archives/coroners-records.aspx . Includes an index to fatalities between 1827 and 1933.
Sussex – https://www.sussexrecordsociety.org/olb/srs014/901/ . Free-to-view online book “Notes of Post Mortem Inquisitions taken in Sussex” from 1485 to 1649.
Pontefract and District Family History Society have indexed the Inquest Notebooks 1844 – 1885 of Thomas Taylor, County Coroner, which covers Brotherton, Ferry Fryston, Knottingley and Pontefract. A paperback copy is available (reference only) at Pontefract Library.
Unfortunately for many of our ancestors, times were hard so it’s not really surprising if you find that your ancestor had to turn to other institutions for help.
Before 1834 care for the poor was the responsibility of the parish. After this Poor Law Unions run by an elected Board of Guardians became responsible. Most Poor Law material, if it exists, will be held locally to the area you are interested in. The National Archives at Kew also holds wider Poor Law Commission records.
You’ll find a guide to the Poor Laws at The National Archives – www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/research-guides/poor-laws.htm. There are also guides to workhouse records as well. The National Archives also has records from more than 20 Poor Law Unions which you’ll find through the Discovery catalogue and these can be downloaded, for a fee.
By far the best website to use if you’re interested in workhouses is Peter Higginbotham’s site http://www.workhouses.org.uk/ . It gives histories and images of individual workhouses, maps of where they were and also will tell you where the workhouse records are held. It’s also good in giving you a better understanding of what a workhouse was like, with first-hand accounts, all kinds of original documents and plans.
A workhouse museum exists at Ripon and is well worth visiting – https://riponmuseums.co.uk/
The Poor Law Unions Gazette can be found at https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/ for the years 1857 – 1865. Its contents consist of “wanted” descriptions of men who had deserted their families and left the union to take care of them. The descriptions of the men are very detailed.
For a guide to parish-level sources (Settlement Certificates / Examinations and Removal Orders) see http://www.genguide.co.uk/source/settlement-certificatesexaminations-and-removal-orders-parish-amp-poor-law/173/ . There are also pages for Apprenticeship Indentures, Bastardy Bonds, Overseers of the Poor Accounts and Workhouse Records.
For children’s homes another excellent site to use, again run by Peter Higginbotham, is http://childrenshomes.org.uk/ . It gives details of orphanages, industrial and approved schools, training ships, homes for those in poverty and much more.
The Waifs and Strays Society cared for over 22,000 children from 1881 (It later became the Children’s Society). You’ll find a complete list of the homes, together with photographs, drawings and histories at http://hiddenlives.org.uk/ .
For examples of Poor Law Records –
West Sussex – https://www.sussexrecordsociety.org/
Dundee – http://fdca.org.uk/Dundee_Poorhouses.html
Manchester – https://secure.manchester.gov.uk/info/448/archives_and_local_history/7384/poor_law_workhouses_and_industrial_schools
Surrey – https://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/indexes/
Museums are a wonderful means of learning more about the life your ancestor might have led. We thought we’d highlight some of the specialist museums that are in Yorkshire. Be aware though that restrictions might be in place because of the current pandemic so it’s probably worth checking the website first before planning a visit.
National Railway Museum – www.nrm.org.uk
Houses one of the largest collections of books and memorabilia about railways in the country. Included are details about railway accidents, railway construction in Yorkshire. While the Search Engine is temporarily closed due to the pandemic, the collection—and the inspirational stories it contains—remains open online. You can find further information about the archives that are cared for via the online collection and the archive catalogue.
Yorkshire Air Museum – https://yorkshireairmuseum.org
Based at a former airfield at Elvington, near York. Included in the collection is what is believed to be the only air gunners’ collection in the UK. There is also an extensive library of books relating to the air industry.
Yorkshire Film Archive – www.yorkshirefilmarchive.com
Their diverse collections include documentaries, newsreels, advertising films, and home movie collections, capturing the rich moving image heritage of Yorkshire over the past 120 years. There are hundreds of films available to view online, free of charge, and more content is regularly added.
Sheffield Industrial Museums – www.simt.co.uk
Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust cares for and manages the industrial collections owned by or on loan to Sheffield City Council.
The Trust has a specific collecting remit to cover the major manufacturing industries of Sheffield. The main areas of the collection are: the metalworking industries, particularly iron and steel manufacture, cutlery making, tool making, silver and hollow-ware manufacture, mechanical and electrical engineering, scientific and technological research, and other manufacturing industries around Sheffield such as the extraction of raw materials which support these industries.
The National Fairground and Circus Archive – www.shef.ac.uk/nfca
The NFCA collection is one of the leading repositories in the world for material relating to all aspects of travelling popular entertainment. The Archive holds 150,000 photographic images, 4,000 books and journals and over 20,000 items of ephemera including posters, handbills and programmes. Additionally the collection holds items of original artwork, early film, audio visual material and important family and business records.
The Second World War Experience Centre – www.war-experience.org
In the Archives section, visitors can access WWII biographies, audio-clips, documents and photographs, of individuals selected from different sections of the archive from all branches of the services (Allied and Axis) and civilian experience at home and abroad.
We all love looking at old photographs, particularly when they’re of places that we know well.
Many can now be viewed online. Lots of libraries and museums have digitised their collections and we thought we’d highlight some of the more local ones.
Hopefully you’ll know about Wakefield Libraries’ own website www.twixtaireandcalder.org.uk which features over 11,000 images from the Wakefield District.
There is also an extensive collection of photographs held by Wakefield Museum and this can be found at: http://collections.wakefield.gov.uk/index.asp?mwsquery=%28%7bCategory%7d=%7bphotographs%7d%29
For Leeds try www.leodis.net which has over 62,000 images of Leeds including a film of the first ever moving images on Leeds Bridge in 1888.
If you’re interested in York then https://images.exploreyork.org.uk is the website for you.
For images of Sheffield from Sheffield City Council’s Archives and Local Studies Library – www.picturesheffield.com
https://picturearchives.org/eastridingphotos has over 1,500 images of places in the East Riding from the 19th century to the 1960’s.
For Bradford you can view Bradford Museum’s photograph collection at https://photos.bradfordmuseums.org
And for Huddersfield https://kirkleesimages.org.uk/index.php . This is another large archive with currently over 60,000 images, mostly of the Kirklees area which includes Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Mirfield and Holmfirth.
The usefulness of DNA testing to family historians is growing every day. It has the potential to unlock those brickwalls that we struggle with but equally it could throw up some surprises!
To help you understand the basics and the jargon we’ve found some blogs that will explain and expand your knowledge.
There’s also a very useful talk on DNA for beginners which was recorded at the Genetic Genealogy Ireland 2020 Belfast conference. It gives loads of helpful information, particularly if you’re thinking of taking a test and even the more experienced may learn more.
As family history societies are not currently meeting for events, including our monthly local and family history events at Castleford, Horbury and Wakefield Libraries, we thought we’d tell you about various online groups that you might want to join in with.
Probably the most obvious social media platform is Facebook. Just search at www.facebook.com to find a group that focuses on the local area that you’re interested in. If you use search terms such as “family history” or “graveyards” you’ll soon find a group that fits the bill. If any do, just send a request asking to join the group and soon you’ll be receiving and passing on information and photographs.
There are also a lot of family historians who use Twitter. Most family history experts, as well as family history societies, have Twitter accounts. A hashtag to be particularly aware of is #AncestryHour. This consists of a group of both professional and amateur family historians who meets on Twitter every Tuesday evening from 7pm until 8pm. To join in just follow the #AncestryHour hashtag and include it in your own tweets. To find out more go to www.ancestryhour.co.uk .
Another online organisation, though this one is international and you have to be a member (for a fee), is the Virtual Genealogical Association (https://virtualgenealogy.org ). Again this brings together all levels of family historians. There are within it specialist interest groups, virtual conferences and webinars. It’s been particularly set up for “those whose circumstances make it difficult to attend local genealogical society meetings”. In other words, perfect during this time of lockdown.
At some point, you’re likely to come across a reference to a relationship that’s outside the scope of the usual “great grandfather” or “cousin”.
Documents such as wills or letters sometimes include references to relationships which might be difficult to understand, or you might meet a distant relative and be unsure about how the two of you are related.
Don’t worry! Help is at hand!
Beginning with cousins, they are, of course, the children of an individual’s uncle or aunt. The words “first”, “second”, “third”, and so on simply describe the number of generations between the people concerned and their common ancestor. So, first cousins share the same grandparents, second cousins have great-grandparents in common and so on.
The words “once removed” are often referred to when describing relationships between cousins. The term means that the first, second etc cousins are in a different generation to each other ie “once removed” means “one generation removed.”
In our handy relationship chart, the relationship in each box is what that person’s relationship would be to you, where you are “Self”. As you can see, you, your siblings, your 1st cousins, 2nd cousins etc are all in the same generation.
Graves and memorials to your ancestors can lead you further in your quest to learn more.
A gravestone may include many members of the same family. Several websites include photographs of the individual graves, and you’ll find that these are constantly being updated, so it’s worth going back and rechecking at some point in the future.
Municipal websites are also worth investigating for the area you’ re interested in.
Many family history societies have indexed monumental inscriptions found in their local graveyards so check with the ones that cover the area you’re interested in. The Family History Federation gives contact details for both British and Overseas societies. There’s also, for Scotland, the Scottish Association of Family History Societies and for Wales, the Association of Family History Societies of Wales.
If you struggle with your ‘third cousins’ and ‘twice removed aunts’ then next week’s Family History Friday is going to be particularly useful for you!
Do you know what a Loblolly Boy was? How many pecks are there to a bushel? Where would you apply pomatum?
When looking at old documents you’ll often come across unfamiliar words for legal terms, measurements, ailments or occupations.
Here are a few websites to help you decipher the language of the past:
For an index of terms of unusual words found in wills
For old medical terms try
For a glossary relating to Latin words
www.thoughtco.com/latin-genealogical-word-list-1422735 For old money
For old weights and measurements
And for a glossary of Scottish research tools
Another wonderful resource for family historians are wills. The wills of our ancestors can provide valuable information about family wealth, possessions and relationships. The names and details of executors and beneficiaries can lead you to further ancestors or confirm relationships you were uncertain about.
For Welsh wills before 1858 try the National Library of Wales
For Scottish wills and testaments have a look at Scotlands People. This website has digitised Scottish testaments from 1513 – 1925. Later undigitised documents can be found in the National Records of Scotland and some of these have been indexed on Ancestry to 1936.
For Irish wills (1858 – 1920) try The National Archives of Ireland
And for Northern Ireland try the Public record office of Northern Ireland